Christopher Powney in conversation with Prix de Lausanne winners
Ahead of this month’s prestigious Prix de Lausanne competition, member of the jury and The Royal Ballet School Artistic Director & CEO, Christopher Powney, talked with two of the previous prize winners, alumnus Harrison Lee and Ashley Coupal for The London Ballet Circle.
The Prix de Lausanne is an international ballet competition for young dancers aged 15 to 18 with the goal of discovering, promoting and supporting the finest talents around the world. If you’re curious about what it’s like to be there, read our student diary—10 days at the Prix de Lausanne.
The Prix offers participants opportunities to win scholarships to ballet schools and, for some of the older performers, the chance to be hired directly into a company.
Harrison Lee was born in Australia. He was introduced to dance by being dragged – unwillingly – to his sister’s class.
Ashley Coupal was born in Canada. She started training at six years old with Kathryn Long and Chan Hon Goh. In 2019 she became a trainee with Orlando Ballet.
Both dancers have entered many competitions during their careers, and Christopher asked why they had chosen the Prix de Lausanne.
Harrison had planned his entry to competitions with Jane Kesby at The McDonald College. He decided to enter the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) in 2014 where he won the junior section. The following year he entered and won the Gold Medal and the Prix de Lausanne.
On his way to Switzerland, he had been able to stop off in London and visit The Royal Ballet School, where he took some classes. During this time he was offered a place for 2015. He admitted it took the pressure off the competition a little, and his performance, a solo from Swan Lake, was controlled and beautiful and demonstrated musicality way beyond his then 15 years.
While at the School, he took a major role in Les Patineurs (pictured above), and Christopher revealed that Sir Anthony Dowell had said that he had never seen it performed better.
Harrison joined The Royal Ballet’s Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme in 2018 and was promoted to Artist in 2019.
Ashley told the audience that it had been her dream since she started her professional training. She joined the Orlando Ballet at 16, under the mentorship of Phillip Broomhead. She loved the coaching and the feedback from other knowledgeable and experienced dancers there and said it had contributed to her growth as an artist.
That doesn’t mean it was smooth sailing. Ashley won the Prix in 2021, the year after it felt like ballet had ceased and the year that the entire competition was held online, which took some fortitude from both the entrants and the competition staff. Conditions were difficult, but you would never have known it watching the video of her Prix solo from Giselle, a stunning testament to her hard work preparing at Orlando Ballet.
Christopher asked her why it took her so long to apply (she was 18 the year she won). She said she had applied before but didn’t get through the first round! When she applied again, she had more experience refining the detail of her performance.
Just before the final of the competition she was approached by Tamara Rojo and invited to join English National Ballet for the 2021 season as an Artist.
Harrison and Ashley went on to answer questions about how the pandemic had affected their careers so far, how Ashley balances classes, shows, and degree studies, how the early days of vocational ballet training felt, and what it’s like to mix with dancers from across the world at the Prix.